House Committee Approves Bill To End Penalties For Impaired People Who Need Police

Jan 28, 2016

South Dakota State Representative Scott Munsterman, R-Brookings
Credit South Dakota State Legislature

State residents impaired by drugs or alcohol would have immunity from prosecution in some cases, if they help someone in an emergency at the time.  The House Judiciary Committee advanced two bills Wednesday that help people get medical attention when they need it.

The committee passed two similar bills in its latest meeting—House Bill 10-78 gives limited immunity to those who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs if they help someone who is injured or facing another medical emergency.  State Representative Scott Munsterman of Brookings, who has a medical degree, says it’s more important to help an impaired person than having someone afraid of being arrested.

Munsterman says, “When people make a bad choice—whether it’s alcohol consumption leading to toxicity, and/or in the companion bill, 10-77, which deals with a drug overdose—there’s a medical threshold that gets crossed, where the priority changes.  And it changes in our mind; just like the fact that nobody in this room would hesitate to help any one of us, we need to eliminate that barrier so that priority can be actualized.”

Stacy Ackerman with the South Dakota Sheriffs' Association spoke in opposition to the measure.  Her group questions how long the immunity from prosecution would last.

She tells the committee, “If they let them sleep it off for a while, and then come morning, they decide ‘Uh-oh, this is a problem’—from our law enforcement perspective, that window of opportunity to get them assistance has passed—that person could be deceased, or they could have other  brain damage.  Because they’ve been left in that state for too long.  Now, from the law enforcement perspective, we’re gonna have to tell that victim’s parents that person, yeah, they waited longer than they should have, but we can’t charge them with anything because they called and rendered assistance.  Albeit, not at the time they should have, but they did.”

Ackerman adds many sheriff’s departments currently won’t charge someone who looks for help while impaired.  House Bill 10-78 passed with all but one committee member in favor.  House Bill 10-77 passed on a 9-3 vote, after a couple of amendments took out mention of felonies.